Feb. 5, 2009

By Adam Caparell

It’s tough for freshmen to make an immediate impact, let alone see the field, during their first season on campus, but there are always exceptions to the rule.

Last year, Alabama’s Julio Jones and Georgia’s A.J. Green were just two examples of freshmen who made immediate impacts. Jones and Green, two highly regarded recruits from the Class of 2008, led their squads in receiving yards per game and wowed the nation not only with their pass catching abilities, but with their ability to adjust so quickly to the competition.

So with national signing day having come and gone, marking the first day recruits can send in their signed letters of intent, one of the biggest questions surrounding all the hoopla is who will be next year’s Julio Jones or A.J. Green?

Four players have the makeup, and more importantly the opportunity, to become the next freshman sensation when the season gets underway in August. And CBS College Sports recruiting expert Tom Lemming provides some insight into the qualities that make these four players ones to watch.

Matt Barkley, QB, USC
USC already has two highly regarded quarterbacks vying to take over for the departed Mark Sanchez, but Barkley will throw his hat into the ring. Already enrolled at USC, Barkley will battle Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp for the right to take over the USC offense.

“He’s got a great arm,” Lemming said. “Great size, smarts and he’s going to have an opportunity this year. He’ll be practicing with them.”

Barkley threw 57 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. Mater Dei is one of two high schools that has produced multiple Heisman Trophy winners in Notre Dame’s John Huarte and USC’s Matt Leinart.

"Offensively, when you start off with the best player in the country at quarterback in Matt Barkley - and he's already here in school - that's an extraordinary boost to your class and a great starting point,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “We're thrilled to have him here and he's already working and will be in the thick of the quarterback competition.”

Marlon Brown, WR, Georgia
The Bulldogs could very well have the best set of young wide receivers next season with Brown joining Green in Athens.

Lemming describes Brown as a “big, physical wide out” and at 6-foot-5 it isn’t going to take much for the Bulldogs to get him the ball.

Brown had his choice of pretty much any program in the country, but he liked the Bulldogs recent track record of developing young receivers into big time players. Green is just the latest evidence of the magic being worked by the Georgia staff. The recently departed Mohammed Massaquoi also made a big impact during his first few seasons Between the Hedges.

Brown amassed 1,785 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns his senior season. But the big question facing the Bulldogs right now is who will be throwing the ball to Brown and Green come fall?

Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
Another big receiver at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Randle is expected to be a contributor for the Tigers next season, even with Brandon LaFell coming back for his senior season.

“Big physical receiver with real good speed,” Lemming said. “He’s got great instincts. He actually played quarterback this year because they needed him there. He was all-state junior as a wide receiver and at quarterback as a senior.”

Randle just earned Parade All-American honors as a senior at Harding Academy in Memphis, Tenn.

Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Te’o was reportedly choosing between USC, BYU, Stanford, UCLA and Notre Dame and many figured the native of Hawaii would choose to play football in Los Angeles. However, Te’o shocked many when he sent in his letter of intent to Charlie Weis and the Irish, helping solidify a defense that showed marked improvement last season, but still is looking to upgrade its overall speed and athleticism.

“He’ll be an impact player immediately,” Lemming said.

And the reason Te’o’s decision to sign with Notre Dame came as such a surprise? Te’o’s not the biggest fan of the cold considering that he hails from Hawaii. Lemming said that during his visit to South Bend, Te’o spent the entire game inside Notre Dame Stadium because he couldn’t handle the 40-degree weather. 

“In the last day, you're always involved with a whole bunch of players that are going right down to the wire and they are picking between two, three, four schools at the last minute,” Weis said. “And we are like everyone else involved in the bunch, but none that we wanted more or more high profile than Manti Te'o.”